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“I have never been to a place where there is a larger mismatch between the
potential of its people and its infrastructure,?observed Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric, during a two-day visit to India in May 2004.
Comparing the key infrastructures of India and China at a conference in Mumbai organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he pointed out that while both countries
were at a similar stage of development in the early 1990s, China now has
 20 times more investment in the energy sector, has invested five times more
than India in the health care sector and 10 times more than India in the transportation sector.
Long before Immelt’s visit, similar sentiments were echoed by KISHWAR AHLUWALIA, a former publishing editor and television journalist, on tourism in China, which has made a complete turnaround and can teach India a thing or two.
It makes one sit up and rethink, is India truly shining?

Peking Duck Beats Delhi Belly

ecently, CII organised an India week in China, which included two major conferences on tourism in Shanghai and Beijing. The agenda was to give travel between the two countries a substantial boost. But before the conference, one encountered a quick reality check.

Sitting next to me on the flight from Bangkok to Shanghai was a sophisticated Hong Kong resident who ran her own garment business. Her daughter studied in New Jersey and her daughter’s room-mate was Indian.

Shanghai

Shanghai has become a popular tourist destination.

She seemed interested in India but when I asked if she had plans to explore India, she literally paled. She said her daughter had wanted to visit India, but she was hesitant. Why, I asked.

She said there was no security for women in India. Reluctantly, I realised no matter how much I tried to persuade her that India didn’t quite bludgeon its women, years of media images in her mind had somehow been reinforced: of veiled women, rapes, molestation.

If even this globally travelled woman had such a negative picture, how could we hope to lure Chinese tourists to India?

What is obvious is the Indian traveller is not overwhelmed by China. And being intrepid by nature ? the shopaholic, the business traveller, the adventure seeker ?all types of Indians are now making their way into China, encouraged by the frequency of direct flights that began in 2002.

Of the five million Indians who travel abroad each year, not more than 100,000 head for China. But this is still substantially higher than the approximately 50,000 tourists who come to India from China.

The agenda for the interface on tourism was to find a method to divert some of the 12 million outbound Chinese to holiday in India.

We need to take lessons from China itself on how to attract tourists. Two years ago, its profits from tourism were ahead of those of the U.K. and Germany. In 1999 it ranked fifth in the world in number of tourist arrivals, up from rank 48, 20 years earlier.

The entire thrust to tourism was given as recently as five years ago by the China National Tourism Administration. Apart from aggressively promoting "cultural tourism," the Chinese implemented a 20-year plan by investing in a rapidly expanding tourist support system, including 274,000 hotels and inns and 288,000 tourism enterprises.

By 2020, it is estimated by the World Tourism Organisation, not only will China become the world’s largest host country, it will also be the fourth largest in terms of Chinese outbound travellers.

Clearly there is much we can learn from China. Some good ideas emerged at the conferences. V.K. Verma, Commercial Director, Air India, announced new flights, from December, to China via Bangkok. Ravi Bhoothalingam, Non-Executive Director, Kuoni Travel Group, India, suggested a package for the budget traveller: $ 1,000 per person for one week, including air fare and stay at a four-star hotel.

Shanghai

Tourism is on the rise in Shanghai

Ajit Gupte, First Secretary, Indian Embassy, Beijing, said the 14-day cooling off period for Chinese tourists was going to be done away with. Visas would be issued at a day’s notice for business travellers.

But ultimately it’s the little things that count. Take fears on security. Nowhere in Beijing or Shanghai are policemen or guards hanging around obtrusively. In India we need their presence round the clock. But this does not necessarily lead to a sense of safety.

The average urban Chinese is used to moving around freely, spending relaxed evenings in the many small restaurants that abound in cities like Shanghai. The nightlife in their larger cities is both robust and affordable. We have to provide similar comforts.

China has an enormous and efficient tourism infrastructure. But as Bhoothalingam pointed out, if we wait to provide similar infrastructure, we may miss the tourism boat altogether. Let’s change what is possible; at least provide a clean, well-lit environment. At Chinese airports or tourist sites, the ambience is hygienic and the custodians are usually well informed and friendly.

In India, one area where Chinese tourism could really flourish ?the Buddhist circuit ?still needs to be upgraded. Nalanda and Bodhgaya could be a natural draw but cannot really be marketed effectively till facilities are brought to international standards.

In short, we need to learn from China’s tourism experience so as to pull in adequate numbers of Chinese tourists. Only if we give them the level of economy, comfort and security they are used to, will we succeed. Most important, all promotional efforts must be rigorously followed up ?again a lesson we could learn from them.

Article courtesy: The Indian Express, Mumbai Edition, 8 November, 2003.